As documented in more than one active Title IX investigation against the University, Harvard’s problem has been and continues to be consistent disadvantaging and abridgment of the protected rights of survivors of sexual violence.
In sharp contrast to the professors’ claims, Harvard’s new policy is the first intermediate step we have seen from the administration to address their federally mandated obligation to place an equal burden on the respondent -- that is, alleged perpetrator -- and complainant -- that is, survivor – during the investigation and resolution process. The new university policy affords complainant and respondent equal opportunity to present evidence to investigators and review and comment upon the investigative reports. In fact, it continues to advise respondents of their right to seek outside legal counsel without similar advisories for complainants. The policy is furthermore ridden with vagueness and loopholes that advantage the respondent over the complainant in disciplinary outcomes, evidence, and appeals. In these instances, the policy is stacked against one party - and the party at disadvantage is still the survivor, not the respondent.
Harvard’s sexual harassment policy is not criminal justice law. The newly-created Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) is not part of the criminal justice system. None of the possible outcomes of an ODR complaint hold anywhere near the severity or longevity of any criminal justice outcome. As an anti-discrimination framework, the Title IX complaint process is meant to decide which of two equally situated parties on campus requires additional support from the school to remain on equal educational footing. The spirit of Title IX is to protect every member of an educational environment from violent and discriminatory conduct - sexual and gender based harassment - that poses a serious threat to their safety and ability to learn.
By implying Harvard should disregard its legal obligation to protect all of its students and ensure a safe and anti-discriminatory environment, this piece displays a callous lack of understanding of sexual violence and its effect on survivors in educational institutions.
In reality, Harvard’s policy and procedures still fall short in making this campus safe for everyone. That is why Our Harvard Can Do Better continues to advocate for increasing student and survivor representation in the policy-making process to create a genuinely just system on campus. Compliance with the bare minimum federal standard should be considered a step forward, and only a preliminary one. We call on our university to demonstrate leadership on best practices for protecting survivors of sexual violence and in creating a safe and supportive community for all.